EVEN though it was the Green Party who had pioneered environmental issues over the years, they seldom got much thanks from the electorate for their campaigning here in Ireland. However, with this month’s declarations of climate change and biodiversity emergencies by the Oireachtas, the public demand for action on the matter has seen people turning to the Greens in the hope of action rather than words, given the government’s dismal record in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Not only across Europe has the party got an electoral bounce, but also quite significantly in local authorities across the country, but not in West Cork where the only Green Party candidate fielded, in the Bandon Kinsale area, Gordon Reid, failed to be elected. His 19-year-old daughter, Catriona, contested the Carrigaline area and did quite well, typifying the new generation of young people who are campaigning for climate action to save the planet they are inheriting from an older generation who allowed man-made carbon emissions to cause such unmitigated damage to the environment.
On polling day, thousands of young people were out on the streets of Dublin and other places across the world, as part of Swedish student Greta Thunberg’s #FridaysforFuture campaign, displaying banners with chilling messages such as ‘There is no Planet B’ and reminding people about the climate emergency as they went to the polls. A lot of young people voting for the first time would have gone for Green Party candidates.
Over the years, the mainstream parties have hijacked Green policies to pay lip service to them mainly for the purposes of enhancing their electoral appeal, but have not acted decisively on them. With the Greens reclaiming the mantle in the local and European elections, the hope is that they will be able to exert political pressure to get things done.
However, the success of the Green Party in the elections did not unduly dent the likes of the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parties who made further modest gains, but Sinn Féin saw the electoral tide that came in five years ago receding because it seems people would prefer to see constructive engagement rather than constant knocking.
In the European elections, Ciarán Cuffe topping the poll in Dublin and Senator Grace O’Sullivan being on the cusp of securing a seat in Ireland South gives the Greens some Irish voices in Europe, along with a like-minded cohort from across the continent.
One failure for the Green Party, however, was in the plebiscite asking people if they would like to be able to directly elect their own mayor in Cork, Limerick and Waterford, which they strongly backed, but which Leeside and Waterford voters wisely rejected because it was only a hastily-arranged, half-baked proposal at best.
With a number of TDs becoming MEPs and the prospect of by-elections having to be called within six months looming, it will be interesting to see if Taoiseach Leo Varadkar would opt to call a general election rather than risking doing badly in by-elections. An impediment to this is when or how Britain leaves the European Union, especially now that Theresa May has announced her departure as Prime Minister.
Britain has until October 31st to finalise the manner of its departure and there is the possibility that it may even leave sooner without agreeing any withdrawal deal, which would require us to have stable government here to deal with the fall-out and possible chaos it will cause. Or they might decide to stay!
So, maybe we’re looking at a Spring general election.